U.S. Wins First-Ever Cross-Country Ski Gold Medal

By Alan Abrahamson | Feb. 24, 2013, 6:27 p.m. (ET)

Kikkan Randall skis to the gold medal during the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships women's cross-country team sprint on Feb. 24, 2013, in Val di Fiemme, Italy.

Jessie Diggins (L) and Kikkan Randall celebrate on the podium
at the medal ceremony for the women's team sprint final.

Kikkan Randall and Jesse Diggins, racing Sunday with quiet confidence, won the team sprint at the 2013 world championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, the first-ever gold medal for the United States in cross-country skiing.

Again, and for emphasis -- the first-ever American world championships gold in cross-country skiing.

Randall and Diggins actually won big, by 7.8 seconds over Sweden's Charlotte Kalla and Ida Ingemarsdotter, women -- and good friends -- the Americans trained with over the summer.

Finland's Riikka Sarasoja-Lilja and Krista Lahteenmaki finished third, 10.95 seconds back.

"It feels incredible," Randall said afterward, adding, "This is something we have looked forward to for a long time. This is my seventh world championships. I've had to spend a lot of time watching awards ceremonies. So we're pretty excited to do it -- in a team event, especially -- and finally get the U.S. on the podium."

Randall and Diggins make for an intriguing pairing.

Randall is 30, from up in Alaska and, as she said, has been around. The 2014 Sochi Games will be her fourth. She has methodically built her way up to become one of the world's best sprint skiers; last season she won the World Cup sprint title, a first for an American woman.

In Sochi, incidentally, the sprint will be run as a freestyle race, which plays to Randall's strength. She took silver in the individual freestyle sprint at the world championships in the Czech Republic in 2009.

The team sprint was freestyle on Sunday in Val di Fiemme; in Sochi, it will switch to classic.

Diggins, meanwhile, is 21, from Minnesota. She's not awed by any of this big-time stuff. Indeed, in the  news conference after the victory, she said of the Swedes, "This is weird. I still have pictures of these guys up on my wall. They probably don't know that."

Randall and Diggins made it plain that they were for real when they won Dec. 7 in Quebec City. That victory was the first-ever U.S. World Cup team event win.

The Swedes were thought by many to be Sunday's pre-race favorites.

The Americans thought differently.

The plan, which Randall and Diggins and their coaches set out, was to be aggressively conservative.

That is not an oxymoron.

Both women have a strong finish -- a strong kick, just like in track and field -- if there's something left in the tank.

The trick would be to stay in close contact with the race leaders through the first two legs. Then it would be go time.

Diggins skied the third, and decisive, leg. It was here that she broke the Swedes and the Finns -- and, on a steep climb, one of her own poles, too.

As luck would have it, a U.S. coach, Erik Flora, sprinted down the track to give Diggins another pole. She didn't even lose momentum.

All Randall had to do in that final leg, to control the race, was ski under control.

"That was so incredible, just seeing that clean snow in front of me and crossing the line," Randall said. "I tried to be stoic and stand up for a while but my legs were pretty dead. That moment when your teammate comes running out and it starts to sink in that you’re world champions -- it’s incredible."

Diggins said, "We both knew that if everything came together just right and we skied really good we had the chance of a medal, but it’s sprint racing, things happen. Your poles come off. People step on your poles. It all came together anyways and that’s a really cool feeling to be able to share with our whole team."

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